In the past few years, the landscape of the financial services industry has changed dramatically, particularly with the introduction of robo advice and the moved toward fully integrated technology solutions. As a result, the relationships you have with your clients have taken on even greater importance. They are likely more personal and more meaningful. And you may be looking for novel ways to provide a level of service that consistently exceeds your clients’ expectations—and helps you stand out from the pack.
One of the “hidden” ways to gain a competitive advantage when it comes to service is to find ways to maximize your employees’ discretionary efforts. To help you do this, let’s start by defining exactly what I mean by “discretionary efforts” and then outline some steps you can take to foster these efforts within your firm.
What Is Discretionary Effort?
Discretionary effort is sometimes confused with engagement, but there are some subtle differences.
- Engagement focuses on the level of enthusiasm that individuals have about their work.
- Discretionary effort relates to performance and the amount of effort someone is willing to put forth.
Simply put, discretionary effort reflects the amount of effort someone will give based on his or her personal desire to do better. If a passion for work is lacking, therefore, you’ll likely find staff simply doing what is required and nothing more. But when your staff feel that their jobs are personally engaging, they will be more inclined to put forth a higher level of effort. The question becomes then, what can you do to help make your employees' work more rewarding and, in turn, maximize their discretionary efforts?
Maximize Discretionary Efforts
Of course, your office has its own structure, with procedures, processes, and specific ways of doing things that must be followed. But within that structure, there are some simple steps you can take to give your team members what they need to help maximize their discretionary efforts.
Autonomy. If given an appropriate level of autonomy, your staff will have the freedom to determine the best way to do their work. This means allowing employees to be self-directed in applying processes and procedures, plus encouraging them to create and implement more efficient ways of completing tasks. With your support, your staff can learn self-reliance, enhance their problem-solving skills, and build confidence—all of which will lead to stronger client service.
Purpose. On a deeper level, we all want to do work that has purpose and to contribute to something greater than ourselves. Help your team realize this purpose by clearly articulating to them the importance of their day-to-day work and demonstrating the direct impact it has on your clients' lives. You can even take it a step further by encouraging them to think of new ways to help clients and improve their experience with your firm.
Resources and training. To succeed in their jobs, your staff need the right resources and training. Without the appropriate tools, they will spend time trying to compensate, which will take away from the time they could be applying to vital tasks. Keep in mind that staff often want to improve their performance; they strive to master the required skills so they can assume new responsibilities and challenges. Providing opportunities for learning and improvement is essential if you want your team to exert a high level of effort.
Trust. Trust is the foundation on which every successful relationship is built, and it’s one of the main drivers of discretionary effort. There are different levels of trust in any firm: trust between you and your staff, trust between staff members, trust between members of your firm and your clients, and trust in your firm’s brand and reputation. On any level, the keys to building trust are:
- Open communication
- A high level of understanding
- Fairness in your actions and decisions
If trust is missing? The level of discretionary effort an individual is willing to put forth will be diminished.
Lead by example. As your firm’s leader, it’s important for you to be seen and heard. If you aren’t interacting with your staff on a regular basis, they won’t feel engaged with you as a leader, and you'll be missing out on a great opportunity to develop trust.
It’s also critical for you to exhibit the behaviors you want your staff to embrace. For example, if you leave a client meeting and complain about the client, you send the message that this is acceptable. Always be aware that your staff look to you for guidance. By observing your behavior, they develop a greater understanding of the values that should guide how they work with one another and with your firm’s clients.
Show appreciation. Nothing has a greater personal impact than a sincere thank you, whether it’s a handwritten note, a small gift, or verbal recognition of a job well done. When you show appreciation for your staff members' efforts, you reinforce the behaviors that align with your firm's meaning and purpose, plus give employees the assurance they often desire to confirm they are on the right track.
The Competitive Advantage
The discretionary effort that your employees choose to give can have a considerable impact on your firm and provide a real competitive advantage. I encourage you to begin with just one of the ideas discussed here and then build on it. Your staff will feel valued and engaged—and much more likely to give the 110 percent they are capable of.
What other ways have you found to increase your employees' discretionary efforts? How do you show appreciation for a job well done? Please share your thoughts with us below!